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Holiday Drama Funny

Cashmere is a sign of success. Or so I tell myself as I stand at my aunt’s door, a potato casserole gripped in my hands.

“Knock ‘em dead,” my roommate jokingly told me as I’d exited our apartment. I suddenly wish I’d brought her for moral support instead of the spuds.

I press the doorbell again.

Augustus, my cousin, opens the door and glares down at me. “Are you coming in?” he says it like he’s been holding the door open for an ungodly amount of time.

“Hello to you too,” I say and enter the marble foyer. I thrust the casserole into his hands and unwind my scarf, shrug out of my retro coat, smooth the minuscule wrinkles out of my cashmere sweater dress, and fluff up my curls. A servant takes my things.

“Need a mirror?” Augustus’s tailored suit, crisp tie, patent leather shoes, slick hair and expensive cologne are signs of his ongoing war with modesty.

“How’s the modeling going?” I ask and tuck my hands innocently behind my back. I can’t believe I forgot to visit the manicurist.

Augustus snorts softly. “I thought you said you’re taking it easy this year, cuz.”

“Oh, I am,” I say and reclaim my casserole. “In there I will be a saint,” I jerk my head at the dining room full of people.

“Always a pleasure, Julie,” he waves me into the dining room.

“That’s Saint Julie to you,” I say and whisk by him. I’m so glad I left the heels at home; boots are a safer choice on the dangerously plush carpet.

The dining table stretches the entire length of the room and is about the right size for one Yaxley family member’s ego. But being a diabolical general, my aunt has surrounded the mahogany giant with sixteen chairs, each one with a place card that must not, under any circumstance, be swapped. What happens if you move it? The dark wood paneling still bears scars from The Fondue Affair.

My Aunt Jezebel—no really, her name is Jezebel—protects the kitchen and is encircled by her coven of daughters, each one more chic and artificial than the last.

I stand at the kitchen’s entrance and wait for Jezebel to allow me entry to her inner sanctum. The granite countertops on either side of me hold the food, most of it vegan and gluten-free concoctions. The cauliflower covered in ground almonds must be someone’s cruel idea of chicken nuggets.

“Ah,” Jezebel spreads her arms and her daughters Juno, Ceres, Minerva, and Cupid (don’t ask) fan out around their mother like a Venus fly trap.

“I come bearing gifts,” I raise my sacrificial casserole and slowly approach my aunt.

When I reach her she lifts the tin foil and her nose twitches. “Potatoes. How…quaint.” My humble food is unceremoniously cast into the oven. “Is no one else with you?” she makes a show of looking over my shoulder.

“No. It’s just me,” I plaster on a smile. Peace. Inner peace.

“How lovely.”

I nod and exit the kitchen without a backward glance, though I swear I can feel my cousins’ scathing disapproval, as if they say, “Cashmere and black nails? How can we be related to that philistine?”

Returning to the dining room isn’t an escape. There’s no safe haven in this dungeon and instead I catalog the reptiles on display.

Uncle Rudolph is stationed, as usual, at the head of the table. He’s spent the whole year giving astronomy lectures in Switzerland and has no intention of letting anyone forget it.

Augustus Caesar—they reversed his name when he turned out to be a cute baby—is by his father’s side and the two are chatting with Delilah Goggins, the “Roman Cohort’s” godmother, and her beau. I do a double-take on the beau because it’s Bob, the guy who witnessed last year’s Wine Incident. He must be serious and possibly insane to return for a second year.

My parents will miss this event because they both had a skiing accident last week. I haven’t visited them yet, so the odds of them staging a hospital room for the camera are pretty high. Luckily for them they live just far enough away that driving to confirm their condition is too much of a hassle.

At the other end of the table stands Alexander Nero, the adopted child who still managed to become as egotistical and destructive as his namesakes and family, despite not being related to either. As far as I know, that is. Last I heard he’s retired from his software company to cruise the ocean on his yacht and acquire a woman and reputation in every port. He never met a three-piece suit he didn’t like and Casual Friday means silk and brandy snifters. As a kid he mistook me for the cleaning lady’s assistant.

And the remaining five of our Yaxley clan are Uncle Leopold, Aunt Maeve and their children, Apollo, Persephone and—I mentally roll my eyes—Hephaestus.

The outside world might think I’m the odd one out, but no. I’m as vain and greedy as the others; I just have to work a bit harder because I thought leaving my family’s domain to pursue my dream would be exciting. It’s not what I envisioned, but I will not slink back to my dad to collect the trust fund.

So for tonight I embrace pax because my roommate bet me six months’ rent that I can’t go to the gathering and return unscathed and relaxed. I love a challenge, but staring at all these sharp-cheeked millionaires is making me rethink things. Six months’ rent versus vindicating my choices. Which would Cicero defend?

Jezebel claps to get everyone’s attention. “Welcome, welcome.” She enters my peripheral vision and I see her arms rise in false benediction. “It’s so wonderful to have you all here. And what a collection of bright, shining faces. Let us eat.”

And now starts the battle of wills to see who dares enter the kitchen first. I had a great brunch and can outlast all these stick bugs.

A full minute ticks by on the foyer’s grandfather clock, like it’s 1918 and we’re all waiting for the armistice to begin. It isn’t, and it won’t, but even predators can pretend.

Nero, that paragon of virtue, swipes his plate off the table and marches to the kitchen. He deigns to notice me as he passes and says, “Embracing the lower class, I see.”

I grit my teeth and curl my lips in a rough approximation of a smile. I found this dress during a summer weekend at the beach and although it cost me a pittance (thank you, thrift stores) it’s still an expensive item. Of course he probably uses cashmere toilet paper, so anyone looking at goat hair like it’s a status symbol is a complete nonentity to him. But it DOES NOT MATTER; I know I look great in it.

“It fits you so well.” Ceres’ Botox isn’t doing her any favors, but if her looks could talk, they’d be saying I look fat. I can let that comment go; she’s still jealous of my normal name.

Now that the metaphorical ribbon has been cut, everyone grabs their plate—I’m bookended by Uncle Leopold and Persephone—and tours the kitchen like it’s a botanical garden: look, but touch only if you dare.

Ever since The Catering Ordeal, Aunt Maeve suggested we “do pot luck.” Her tone implied it was exotic and daring, and…well…it’s something. As I take a closer look at the things on display, I recognize three different caterer’s diet-friendly dishes, corn chips, and what appears to be a poor attempt at disguising Farm Food’s Signature Veggie Jamboree. The crystal bowl holding plain quinoa is a mystery, but I concentrate on the stovetop which holds my trusty potatoes and (yes!), brisket. Augustus isn’t good for much, but his brisket saves lives. I fill my plate with potatoes and brisket, and dot the surface with a few baby carrots in case I need to insert crunching into the conversation.

I take my seat and immediately begin eating. Augustus sits across from me (and behind him stands the life-size statue of Napoleon) and I smirk at his nearly identical plate, the broccoli florets the only difference. 

My eating slows when I remember I have to stay for dessert. After The Hapsburg Happenstance, we all tacitly agreed that cream pies are off limits, and though The Trombone occurred when I was a small child, cookies are still strictly forbidden. What has Jezebel chosen for this year?

“I saw Uranus while in Switzerland,” Uncle Rudolph says to Aunt Maeve, a statement worthy of great awe, if his bowed head is any indication.

“What fun!” Maeve’s squeaky voice covers any reaction Augustus and I might have let out. “And was it quite marvelous?”

“Oh, truly, truly. A most magnificent sight. I’ve written a twenty-page essay, if you’d like to read it,” he holds his fork midway to his mouth while Maeve struggles for an answer. The food on the fork falls back to the plate but Rudolph brings it to his mouth anyway.

“The crossing proved rougher this year,” Nero says. He sits in the place of honor at Jezebel’s right hand. “My captain urged me to head south, but I told him, I said, ‘Press on, man! Press on!’ and we made Lisbon in good time. I really think you ought to spend the winter there with me, dear mother.”

I bite a carrot and chew it into oblivion in hopes of drowning out Nero’s nasally voice. No one should have to hear him talk and if he didn’t literally own a gold mine, I don’t think anyone would.

“The best way to travel is by private jet,” Leopold’s bass voice rumbles to life. “You can’t appreciate clear skies unless you’re slicing through them at max speed. Right, Jules?” his conspiratorial nudge sends my poised, snub-nosed steak knife (The Italian Date was an intense dinner) across my knuckles. I wince, but no blood appears and Leopold doesn’t miss a beat. “But the chairs are an embarrassment to sensible tastes. We must get some Moroccan…”

“I think Minerva’s pregnant,” Persephone hisses in my ear. “Her cheeks are rosy.” We both look at the woman sitting across and to our right. Indeed, Minerva doesn’t have her normal sallow cheeks and, heaven forbid, has put butter on her quinoa. She’ll disappear if she turns sideways, but I nod in support of Persephone’s theory.

“Stop it!” Cupid whines, yanking her hair free of Hephaestus’s grip. They’re the youngest, not yet out of college, and always sit by Jezebel so she can keep them in line.

“Put your hair up,” Hephaestus pushes his round glasses up his nose. “You look like a ho.”

“Mother! He said a bad word!” Cupid’s fake tears are legendary; I think she has an on/off switch.

“Hephaestus. Leave your cousin alone or you will get no dessert.” (Ah-ha! Dessert is happening, unlike The Cocoa Chaos.) Jezebel doesn’t put her usual conviction behind the threat as she’s still listening to Nero’s recounting of a totally legitimate pirate attack.

“I lashed the brigand to his helm and watched as the ship burned,” Nero sounds a little too gleeful. Maybe he is related to the emperor after all.

“How is the job?” Delilah skewers me with a glance and I note that Augustus stiffens beside her. Delilah’s tricky to gauge. One moment she’s laughing at a joke, the next she’s coming at you with an ice pick.

“It’s going well. I’m enjoying it,” I allow myself a small smile.

“No one wants to hear about Uranus again, Father,” Juno’s voice drifts over to me.

“You’re in publishing, aren’t you?” Bob the Beau’s head appears around Persephone and I give him my best stony glare. He pops back out of view.

“Some sort of fiction writer, correct?” Ice Pick Delilah it is.

“Yeah. Aren’t you writing, like, romance novels?” Apollo lets out a guffaw and chugs some wine.

I want to kick Apollo but with my short legs I’d probably hit Augustus, my only semi-ally. I open my mouth to give a level response but realize the table has fallen silent. Great.

“Yes, Julie, tell us about your writing,” Jezebel laces her fingers and diamond rings wink at me.

“I am a writer,” I say carefully, twisting the napkin in my lap. “I write paranormal romances and I’ve had three books published.” This must be what AA meetings are like. Everyone stares at you with fake compassion even though their lives are also in shambles.

“Does it pay well?” Minerva says, her rosy cheeks even more noticeable against her pale skin and black hair.

“It must, if she can afford potatoes!” Persephone laughs shrilly and stabs at her nutty cauliflower.

Six months’ rent. Six months’ rent. I inhale slowly and deeply.

“She always did associate better with the rabble,” Nero drawls.

Six.

“I knew a writer once. She had good hips,” Leopold strokes his chin.

Months’.

“Of course it doesn’t pay well, Min,” Ceres condescends to join the fray. “She has to have a roommate.”

Nope. Can’t do it.

Augustus shakes his head and grins. He knows what’s about to happen.

“So, Minerva,” I chomp into a carrot. “Who’s the daddy?”

Minerva’s eyes bulge.

Jezebel gasps.

Someone’s phone chimes.

The butler appears behind the hostess. “The crème brûlées are ready, ma’am.”

Hmm. Brûlée Bonfire has a nice ring to it.

November 27, 2023 18:49

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25 comments

AnneMarie Miles
23:08 Nov 28, 2023

Kailani, this was so fun! You really captured the arrogance of this entire family well by contrasting them with the MC's who felt so much contempt towards them. The dialogue was entertaining and telling, and your sentences were rich. There were many great little phrases in here, the first one I noted was "slick hair and expensive cologne are signs of his ongoing war with modesty." I also loved the titled incidents, which you then masterfully connected to the story's ending. Brulee Bonfire was a very delicious and satisfying ending because I ...

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Kailani B.
21:32 Nov 29, 2023

Your compliments mean so much, AnneMarie! I think these short stories are really helping me hone my writing skills and I'm grateful for all the positive feedback I've been getting. I haven't tackled an ensemble cast in a short story before, but I'm glad it worked out because it was a blast to write. Thanks again!

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Karen Corr
00:27 Nov 30, 2023

Good job portraying the intimidating family get together. Rich or poor some families are naturally toxic and this family has quite the history. The Fondue Affair Wine Incident The Hapsburg Happenstance (cream pies are off limits) The Trombone (cookies are still strictly forbidden) The Cocoa Chaos and now maybe the Brûlée Bonfire.😂😂 Julie did very well. Good story telling, Kailani!

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Kailani B.
16:44 Nov 30, 2023

Thanks so much, Karen! It was a lot of fun imagining what kind of disastrous dinners the family's experienced.

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Belladona Vulpa
15:01 Dec 03, 2023

I loved reading the story, so much fun and you captured successfully a great MC voice for this story. We support the MC at this setting of a painfully snobby family table. Lively dialogue and the descriptions that paint a picture, a nice feeling of conflict kept me engaged, and a nice ending!

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Kailani B.
23:52 Dec 03, 2023

A strong character voice is something I'm always striving for, and based on the comments, it seems I pulled it off with Julie. So happy you liked it, Belladona!

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Kelly Sibley
10:55 Dec 03, 2023

I was hooked by your first word. Just leave the lot of them, set fire to the creme brulees, take your potato bake and tell the lot of them to sod off! ........Yes, I completely enjoyed your story! Very very Well Done!

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Kailani B.
02:13 Dec 05, 2023

I never expected to write about cashmere and potatoes in the same story, and that's what I love about these prompts: it's always an adventure to see where my writing goes! I'm happy you enjoyed it, Kelly!

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Kate Winchester
23:21 Dec 02, 2023

This is very entertaining! I love your narrator’s voice, and the end was great!

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Kailani B.
18:53 Dec 03, 2023

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Kate!

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Kate Winchester
20:13 Dec 03, 2023

🥰

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Liz Elletson
16:42 Dec 02, 2023

I’ve held my tongue for many years during my in-laws gatherings, but a few years ago, I finally let ‘em have it! I can relate to your character, Julie. High-five to her. Great story!

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Kailani B.
18:33 Dec 03, 2023

Sometimes you just have to speak your mind! Thanks for reading, Liz!

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Nov 30, 2023

Ha! Very funny, and great ending. Love the voice on the narrator - she really brings it all to life. “Nope. Can’t do it.” :) Lots of lovely history and tension here, and it's all just so vicious. And the names! Both for the people and the historical events. They're a great fit. Is there a lesson? If you can't beat them, join them, maybe. Or, considering the names and that this is where she comes from, all roads lead to Rome? Sometimes the urge to be right, to one-up others, is so self-destructively strong. That six months rent is going t...

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Kailani B.
00:48 Dec 01, 2023

You always make me smile (well, maybe not the kidney snatching one), so I'm glad I could return the favor. I've never experienced a hostile family dinner, and I thought making it dramatic and ridiculous would be the only way I could make it work. As for the lesson...I wasn't really going for anything in particular. I suppose it ended up being a portrait of how shallow priorities can suck all the joy out of life. That, and good food is an absolute "must have" for parties. Thanks for reading, Michał!

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Danie Holland
16:59 Dec 11, 2023

Kailani. This was so dang funny. I laughed so much. Incredibly engaging writing. I love that she’s not above them and yet we root for her anyway. “The outside world might think I’m the odd one out, but no. I’m as vain and greedy as the others” - Ha! I have an obsession for morally grey characters. She’s adorable and I love her. Great story! I was drowning before, sorry I’m late to the game on this one. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

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Kailani B.
02:33 Dec 12, 2023

Woo-hoo! Your comment made my day, Danie!

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Aeris Walker
19:02 Dec 08, 2023

This story was a lot of fun! Love the pretentious classical names and how you packed so many different personalities into this piece. I could so relate to the awkwardness of that question at the end, "So, tell us about your writing" in a room full of people who don't really understand or appreciate writers. Makes sense she didn't want to stick around. Great job :)

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Kailani B.
03:11 Dec 09, 2023

It's weird; writing seems to be one of those rare hobbies/jobs that people who aren't writers can't seem to take seriously unless you're making buckets of money. It was a little too easy for me to write a scene about people questioning the validity of writing. Thanks for commenting, Aeris!

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Marty B
06:28 Dec 05, 2023

A lot of Strong, and despicable characters! For some reason I really liked Augustus! Brisket and potatoes is a good meal, after the rest of the pot luck was listed. Creme brulee, the ticking time bomb!

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Kailani B.
17:19 Dec 07, 2023

I like Augustus too, especially since he brought the brisket! Thanks for liking my story, Marty!

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Brent Daniels
22:02 Dec 03, 2023

I really enjoyed reading your story, Kailani, I thought it was both hilarious and relatable, and rich as well!

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Kailani B.
17:52 Dec 05, 2023

Thanks, Brent! Aside from tasty potatoes, I can't say I relate to any of it, but it's good to know my fabrications have a toe in reality.

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David Sweet
14:49 Dec 02, 2023

I read in the comments that you had not experienced a hostile Thanksgiving but had to only imagine it. That is a blessing. I have never experienced one either, thankfully. I especially enjoyed the names of the characters that drip with pretentiousness. Thanks for a delightful tale. Keep it up.

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Kailani B.
19:08 Dec 03, 2023

Yeah, all my family get along and we always have good parties. Normally it's kinda hard to come up with names, but these were easy! Thanks for reading, David!

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